2 December 2014

The Skull - For Those Which Are Asleep

A while back I reviewed an album by Masters Of Reality and said that I first heard them on a Def American compilation tape. Well, also on that tape was a song called Psychotic Reaction by a band I’d never heard of called Trouble.

They, alongwith Slayer, were my gateway into heavier music. I then slowly found all of their albums (It was hard to do before the internet!) until they split in 2002. In particular I loved the album that Psychotic Reaction was taken from (Trouble, 1990) and its follow-up Manic Frustration (1992). They are one of the most influential bands of the Doom Metal movement, slow, heavy riffs and more than a whiff of psychedelia.
Eventually they reformed and released the average Simple Mind Condition in 2007, but vocalist Eric Wagner left after that. Last year they released The Distortion Field with new vocalist Kyle Thomas (formally of Exhorder, the excellent Floodgate and Alabama Thunderpussy). He’s a great singer so I was looking forward to hearing it but, unfortunately, it was a big disappointment. There was one thing instantly and glaringly missing: Eric Wagner’s voice. As I said, I normally like Kyle Thomas but on that album he just wasn’t Eric and it showed. The Distortion Field wasn’t a bad album by any means and there was quite a few decent tunes but it just wasn’t the same. Maybe if they’d changed their name and continued as a different band it mightn’t have been such an issue but as it is, it is.

So what does this have to do with The Skull? They feature three ex-members of Trouble: Eric Wagner along with Ron Holzner and Jeff Olsen on bass and drums and they originally formed in 2012 to play Trouble songs for fun. The band name comes from Trouble’s second album (The Skull) released way back in 1985, I’m really glad they didn’t go down the whole sorry road of calling themselves Eric Wagner’s Trouble, like the Queensrÿche debacle and went for a proper band name that still has ties to the old one.

For Those Which Are Asleep is their debut album but is almost all original songs, with just one Trouble cover tacked on the end. While they haven’t completely attempted to sound just like Trouble, they’re playing Sabbath influenced Doom Metal and Wagner is immediately recognisable so it’s not really that far removed.

Opening track Trapped Inside My Mind begins with a slow doomy riff before the song kicks in after a minute and as soon as Eric starts singing I’m taken back to listening to Manic Frustration again. The band sound vibrant and new and the mix of Doomy heaviness with Beatlesesque melodies that drew me into Trouble’s music is there and, beautifully so.

The Touch Of Reality is another excellent song, it has an ominously chugging riff that reminds me of Swedish Doom Metal band Krux. Sick Of It All is slower and ponderous until the second half of the song which features a faster paced, er, chugging riff that sees the song through until the end. It took me a few listens to fully appreciate this song at first but I eventually did. The Door is a piano led power ballad of sorts. It exudes a feeling of dread and is an alright song but, with the slow paced Sick Of It All beforehand, it means that the album loses a lot of pace. Thankfully Send Judas Down and A New Generation follow next that take it right back up. Both are heavy but melodic and have fantastic choruses.
 Till The Sun Turns Black is also really good and is probably the most Trouble-like song on the album, particularly the ‘dumdi dumdi dumdi’ riff that permeates throughout. 
The title track is the longest song on the album at around 7 ½ minutes long. It starts with some gentle acoustic guitar before bursting into a slow powerful riff complete with some satisfyingly metal squeals. From then on it alternates between the two and it works very well. It’s a dramatic and haunting piece of music with an infectious chorus and the best thing Eric Wagner has done in quite a few years now.

Sometime Yesterday Mourning is the fastest song here and powers along mercilessly. The final song is a cover(?) of the first song Trouble ever released, The Last Judgement. Seeing as it was recorded 30 years ago now it understandably benefits from an upgrade, other than a general modernisation it’s pretty faithful to the original and is a nice way to conclude the album.

 For Those Which Are Asleep is a fine return to form for the Ex-Trouble’s. It’s way better than Simple Mind Condition and also, sadly, The Distortion Field. The production of the album is good, the vocals are clear and the guitars sound warm, Eric Wagner's voice is in fine form and I’m hoping they’ll continue on. I don’t think there’s be a proper any time soon but now I don’t think there’s any need for one. Let Trouble (with Kyle Thomas) change their name and both bands continue one and leave Trouble in the past.

8 out of 10 -  Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart.

Best Track: For Those Which Are Asleep

Listen to it on Spotify HERE

Buy from Amazon HERE

There's not really any proper videos that I can find of The Skull so here's a live version of the song that I first heard Trouble through: Psychotic Reaction.


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